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BVD vest - the unicorn webbing jacket for paratroopers

Updated: Mar 24

The BVD is one of those things that look very out of place. The Soviet Army uniform and equipment generally don't look very appealing or modern. Those who enter the topic quickly get used to the simplicity and depression of a 4-cell pouch and a water flask.

But the BVD is something different. It looks very different and unusual for Soviet equipment. It has hell lots of pockets and an overall modern look. This article is part of a more extensive list, where we try to mention all the equipment used by the Soviet Army during the Soviet-Afghan War.

BVD vest
BVD vest

What is BVD?

BVD stands for "Boevaya Vikladka Desantnika", which means something like "Paratrooper Battle Webbing". Essentially, it is what its name suggests - a jacket with pockets, which a paratrooper was to put on for a firefight. The idea behind the design of BVD is unclear, as no documentation on it is available for the general public. It is not even clear if such documentation still exists. However, there are some very good, educated guesses.

BVD vest
BVD vest with loadout

The best guess is that the idea behind the BVD was to load all the equipment, which was supposed to go into belt pouches and RD-54 packs into the webbing. This is a really good guess since it definitely follows Soviet equipment designers' logic. The problem is that no one worked out what each pocket is meant for, but this will be discussed in the next paragraph.

The BVD was produced in very limited quantity as an experimental webbing. It was discontinued in production, potentially because of the introduction of the 6B3 body armor, which was both armor and webbing at the same time. However, quite a lot of BVD jackets made their way to Afghanistan and even more ended up in storage and were sold to the general public in the 90s and 00s.

What are pockets in BVD for?

The number and specific sizes of pockets make you think that there is no way it was done randomly. It was not - all these pockets were intended for SOMETHING. Unfortunately, we do not know the designation for every pocket and it is unlikely that this will be worked out anytime soon. However, there are some very good guesses and approximations based on the pocket sizes and items associated with Soviet Airborne. Here is what was worked out so far:

The front side of the BVD vest

  1. 13x10x2cm - hemostatic tourniquet

  2. 18x16x2cm - binoculars, maps, ...

  3. 11x11x2cm - AI (individual first aid kit)

  4. 8x12x2cm - IPP (individual field dressing)

  5. 4x10x2cm - two NSP (signal flare of red/green/yellow smoke)

  6. 8x17x2cm triple - 5.45 or 7.62 30-round magazine, one in each pocket (these are very weird, actually, as they are loose enough to almost fit two magazines in each pocket, but you can't. Neither you can fit 45rd magazines)

  7. 4x17x2cm two NSP (signal cartridge of orange smoke)

  8. 8x12x2cm IPP (individual dressing bag)

BVD vest
BVD vest - frontal side

The back side of the BVD vest

9. 10x11x2cm - unknown

10. 18x24x6cm - the pocket is tightened with a ribbon - unknown

11. 13x18x2cm - Gas Mask

12. 9x10 x2cm - unknown

13. 14x8 (flat pocket) - sewing accessories

14. 10x13x4cm - two packs of explosives

15. 17x17x4cm - combined flask, Airborne

16. 20x14x4cm - unknown

17. 13x14x4cm - unknown

BVD vest
BVD vest - back side

An alternative variant of the BVD vest equipment loadout

Here is an updated version of the potential BVD loadout, with photos of the easily recognizable items.

BVD vest

How BVD was used in Afghanistan

The BVD vest was designed based on the practice of the Soviet-Afghan War and the first samples were issued there. Given the name of the webbing, it sounds like it was supposed to be issued only to Airborne forces, more specifically, to the Airborne Assault - 56th DShB. In practice, the major beneficiary of these webbings was the 345th Airborne Regiment, as it is easiest to find photos of them wearing the BVD vest.

BVD vest
Officers of 345th PDP in BVD vests

However, a lot of other regiments have received the vest as well. Most notable, an unknown SpN unit - it was thought that Special Forces were not issued these webbings, just like all others were not issued Poyas-A chest rig. Apart from them, 122nd MSP received some supply of these new webbing systems.

If I had the opportunity, I would thank the men from the Department of Logistics of the Ministry of Defense for two good things: the "expeditionary backpack" and the BVD - the paratrooper's combat equipment.
BVD vest
Soldiers of 122nd MSP, some wearing BVD vests

The one who deisgned the BVD vest obviously knew a lot about war and understood what a soldier needed at a firefight. Two pieces of khaki canvas with a cut-out for the throat were fastened at the shoulders with lacing through steel rings. The lacing could be loosened or tightened. Under the lacing, wide and soft rag straps went over the shoulders, which did not dig in and did not cut the shoulders and collarbones. This is very important when carrying a lot of weight. Front and back pockets were provided for everything that a soldier carries on himself: for magazines, rockets, grenades, fuses, lights, smoke, water. There were ribbons in front and behind, on which you can conveniently hang a cape and a sapper shovel. And most importantly, the BVD is adjusted to the figure with lacing on the shoulders and sides. And it will not slip off you, and the weight will be evenly distributed over you - it will not rock you forward or backward. A very valuable item.

Not everyone would agree with such a positive review, and I have personally interviewed officers from the same regiment, who claimed that they would much rather have a chest rig instead of the BVD vest.

BVD vest
Soldiers of 66th OMSBr, the guy in the center has a chest rig made out of BVD vest

From my personal experience, the BVD is problematic at least. While I am not qualified enough to say if the amount of pockets is a dozen too much, I can certainly say that the size of the vest is really huge. At least for a regular Soviet soldier at the time, who would weigh around 70kg and be 175cm tall. For this webbing to fit, such a soldier would need to wear at least 6b2 body armor and preferably a winter coat as well. Well, maybe this was the intent.

BVD vest
After a firefight - sniper in a BVD vest

Overall, this webbing is a very fine addition to any Soviet-Afghan collection. Nowadays, they became extremely rare and quite expensive. Fortunately, a lot of replicas exist on the market which makes it much easier to acquire one for reenactment or collecting.

BVD vest
A monument dedicated to Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan featuring BVD vest

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